July 23, 2010
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With a return-to-prison rate of 30 percent and a cost of $20,000 per year per inmate, Florida prison officials believe anything that can be done to reduce recidivism will enhance public safety and save taxpayers a pile of money.
So there is a special significance to this week’s graduation of 72 inmates at the female-only Hillsborough Correctional Institution, (13 from the prison’s GED program and another 59 from vocational programs) because inmates with education and job skills are much less likely to return to prison.
Florida Secretary of Corrections Walter McNeil, a former police chief, says that re-entry programs like the ones at Hillsborough Correctional are part of a statewide re-entry initiative in Florida’s prisons aimed at reducing crime and decreasing victimization.
Graduations like these, he says, are taking place all over in Florida’s more than 60 prisons. Desoto Correctional Institution, for example. Five years ago, McNeil says, this prison in rural South Florida near Arcadia had a mere seven GED graduates for the entire year. This year so far, 70 inmates have earned GEDs.
From their first days in Florida prisons, inmates are urged to improve themselves in preparation for the day they are released. By earning diplomas and acquiring skills in honest trades, learning how to get along with other people and setting goals to change their ways, inmates increase their chances of success outside, and decrease their chances of returning to prison.
“When an inmate succeeds,” says McNeil, “society succeeds. Inmates with education and skills are less likely to commit crimes. This equates to greater public safety. With a diploma and relevant job skills, released inmates are more likely to find jobs, support families, live law-abiding lives, and pay taxes.”
McNeil points out that last year the Florida Department of Corrections released 37,391 inmates to join the workforce in all of Florida’s 67 counties.
“If our re-entry efforts are even partially successful, they will mean fewer crimes committed, increased security for citizens and a great deal of money saved,” McNeil said. “It’s a win-win all around.”